For the last 800 kilometers on my mountain bike I was able to test the HOUFFA25of Zeal Cycling. In total I rode 3 times a 100 km (with different tyre pressures), a number of tours of +/- 50 km, an ATB RBR race (3rd place) and the Dutch Masters of MTB (200 km marathon). A test on different surfaces under various conditions on and around the Salland Ridge. On paved paths, on those nasty tree root sections, climbs, descents, in the most unlikely mud pools and in the dusty sand. All ingredients were present. What you might not do with your own wheel set is no longer an option. Full throttle! And then afterwards polish them as if they belonged to yourself. The most important question I wanted to answer was this: will you notice the difference between your own aluminum wheel set and a high quality carbon wheel set.
Well for sure!. Everything costs less energy (there is also a small placebo effect in it, I'm afraid, because everything goes better when it looks good). The cornering is so direct thatt you can register a lot of PRs after each ride. No KOM's, because the times on the Salland Ridge are pretty sharp already. The wheels can be easily corrected in the bends and take the tree roots with playful ease. You don't have to have the mountain biking skills of Matthieu van der Poel to take a tough single-track, but these wheels give you just that little bit of extra confidence in the curves so you can accelerate faster. There, I noticed a real difference. Where I first had to put a lot of energy into speeding up after a minor turn, I noticed that you correct faster and lose less speed and strength after steering in and out. You don't have to work as hard, especially over long distances. The Dutch Masters of MTB lasted 09:20:55 for me with an average speed of 21,4 km/h. For a race like this, you are besides all other preparations with regard to clothing, food and lights also busy with comfort. Comfort is easy to get out of low-pressure tyres, but this edition turned the tide again and the whole course was frozen stiff. A fully offers a solution, but I didn't have it at my disposal (now I can't complain about my material). Luckily I drove a tubeless, brilliant invention by the way, which allowed the tire pressure to drop a bit (1.6 front 1.7 rear). 200 km is an attack on your body anyway, but without too much pain I rolled fairly easily to the finish.
The wheels are delivered in a pair of beautiful wheel bags that can even be carried with a shoulder strap as messenger bags. The same applies to the roadsheel set. Looking for your hotel room when you actually have your hands too full and can't hold everything up is a thing of the past. With a smooth movement you can swing the high quality wheelbags over your shoulder and without any worries you can go to your accommodation with your bike in one hand and in the other the bags you could not take with you before. Look, I find that handy, yet saves another trip to the car.
In addition to the performance they deliver, the wheels also have a beautiful look. Matt black with logo on both sides of the wheels. One white, the other black. Very subtle and stylish. The hubs of the wheels are made by DT-Swiss, but only the logo of Zeal can be seen. With the aid of a laser the name is engraved in it. No more flaking stickers, just quality with a stylish sauce. The carbon rims are 25 mm wide, weigh 370 grams and have a "hookless" edge, allowing the tyres to be fitted perfectly and to do their job properly. These wheels in collaboration with Schwalbe, Rocket Ron front and Racing Ralph rear tyres gripped every surface with the right pressure to attack every turn with tremendous grip and confidence. These tyres are supplied and fitted as standard, Ready-To-Ride is what they call it. Playing with tyre pressure is very personal, but during the Dutch Masters of MTB (200 km marathon) I was happy with 2.0 bar. The surface had become rock-hard as a result of the frost and was looking like a race track. Later in the day we got some thawing on the trails that were lying in the sun, but I easily kept control on these sections as well.
Then there remains the obvious pink elephant in the room. The name HOUFFA. Of course this is a tribute to Houffalize, better known as the Mountainbike Mecca of the Benelux. Zeal Cycling is committed to quality and style, but they are also aware that for a contemporary cross-country course, the technical requirements are even higher. Nevertheless, in my experience they have been more than successful in this project. For a €1399,- (including tires, wheelbags and other spareparts) you have a wheel set that looks beautiful, is very stiff and offers a lot of comfort with the tubeless tires. Compare that with a set of ENVE and the choice is easily made.
Now that I ride with my old familiar aluminum wheels again, I experience again that the rigidity of a wheel in combination with a good frame can make a world of difference and that I am still inclined to put some money aside here and there for a set of carbon wheels. First find a good time to share this at home at the kitchen table...
- Stiffness: 9 out of 10
- Weight: 8 out of 10
- Looks: 9 out of 10
- Price: 7 out of 10
- Lots of extra’s
- DT Swiss hubs
- Price (it still is quite an investment)
Tested by Maarten Visser | Original test: